My Best Excuse Not to Write is the Greatest Reason I Should

Strange people muttering in my mind, please stop. Or at least slow down. I don’t have time to pay attention right now. I’m busy.

Giggle, whine, scream. Yes, little one, I hear you. I will tend to you. Don’t ever worry. You will always come first.

Sometimes I feel like I’m being torn in two. Guilt when I write. Guilt when I mom. Guilt. All. The. Time.

My four-month-old son is the best excuse not to write yet he’s the most important reason to do so.

I wish I could accomplish both with ease, that there were more hours in the day, that I could survive on less sleep than he allows me. But there isn’t, and I can’t. I can only wait patiently for longer naps, ponder plot twists and character arcs as I monitor tummy time, and read books on craft while breastfeeding. I can wake earlier and squeeze in a few words before he rubs his baby blues, and cut out the TV shows that became mandatory during the days and nights he refused to sleep, when writing was the furthest thing from my mind.

But now that our household has settled after the new addition, I’m desperate to write. For him. I want to be the mother he deserves, and I’m at my best when diving deep into a story. I feel whole and happy and energized. I want to teach him how to be the best person he can be, which for me is when I’m writing, so I need to lead by example and find a way. I want to demonstrate that following your dreams is important, and I want to try to provide for my family, for his future. I want him to grow up knowing that a woman is capable, strong, and driven. And I want him to be proud of his mama.

And because of all of this I will find a way. I will do this. Because I have to.

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Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-jan-2016

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Emojis and Ebola: Catch Up Time

Much was sacrificed during the making of Book Two, something I will begin rectifying immediately including…

  • Reading. I’d set a goal to read a book a week in 2014. I’m ten books behind. While having read 31 books already this year might seem great, I read 75 books in 2013 so I’m unimpressed with myself, even though I honestly have no clue how I pulled off reading so much last year.
  • Friends! *WAVES* I’m here. I’m sorry. I suck. Please still like me.
  • Cleaning. I’ll spare you a photo of the “scary room.” It’s actually our office, but we use it as a dump site for everything and anything. Currently there are papers piled on my desk for filing from March through October, books strewn everywhere that have yet to make it on my shelves, camping gear, photos awaiting find frames, and some of the items from when I decluttered and de-glutened my kitchen that I have yet to give away. I’ll spare you a photo.
  • Emojis and Ebola: I should probably brush up on the news and latest technology.
  • Pondering my next project. I have a few ideas. I’m hoping to jot down some notes. I’d contemplated NaNoWriMo on Friday, but then quickly reconsidered because that’d be cray-cray after the insanity of the last few months. I need a break. Or at least a gentle writing guideline and not one that involves writing a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November.
  • Get reacquainted with Novel Escapes. Post more reviews. Regularly.
  • Maybe write some blog posts and possibly attempt some marketing for Redesigning Rose.
  • Gardening. My poor, poor garden. Thankfully husband has been tending to it, but I suspect he may now think he’s claimed it and staking my territory again next spring will be a struggle.
  • Television! So behind.

Disclaimer: The above list is not inclusive of everything requiring my attention after finishing Drafts Two and Three of Book Two and is not in order of priority.

Here’s one shiny manuscript on its way to one beta reader. I couldn’t bring myself to transport it in anything but the New York Public Library tote I scored on my trip last May.

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I’m in the Zone, Leave Me Alone

I’ve fallen into my writer’s cave again but this time around it is not quite as dark and scary a place as it was a few weeks ago. In fact, I’m not sure I even crawled out of it, but there are slivers of light now where before there was only dark.

I'm in the Zone

For this new book I dusted off a manuscript I’d written for NaNoWriMo nearly four years ago. I kept almost every character, renaming many along the way. For some reason with Book Two – which sadly doesn’t have a proper name yet – I gravitated towards names starting with J. There was Jessica, James, Jocelyn, and Jeremy, and a prominent last name of Jamieson, and every time I had a new character to add, a J name was the first to pop into my head. Apparently this is not an unusual phenomenon in the novel writing world. So I’m not weird. Or maybe all writers are weird. You decide.

So I had all these wonderful characters. I loved each and every one of them. But the plot of said NaNoWriMo book? Well, it sucked. Truly.

And I had another idea I loved that had sparked during one of the final rounds of edits on Redesigning Rose (something I’m learning occurs with me during the editing stages. As I write this blog post and edit Book Two, I am already plotting my next novel.)

So I decided to marry the two, something that was infinitely more difficult than I ever could have imagined. But I’ve done it. I stripped away everything from that shitty old draft except three scenes and rewrote/wrote my new story with all the old characters. And it’s mostly finished. I’ve slotted the biggest pieces of the plot puzzle together. Finally.

I have some minor tweaks and oodles of line-by-line rewriting to do to polish the draft before handing it over to my beta readers. And I’m determined. I really want to finish by September 15th. I don’t know if this is possible, but I didn’t think my last deadline was possible either and I did it. And I also never thought writing on the subway was possible, but I’m doing it. I can crank out 850 words on my iPad during my 40 minute commute. That’s more than I write in an hour at home. I’ve even discovered a way to edit Book Two on my subway trips even though it’s a copy and paste affair into my writing software when I arrive home. Scrivener, please, please, please keep working diligently on your iPad app!

I’m studying anything and everything right now, observing for even the tiniest of details to add. Nothing is off limits. My manuscript is never far from my thoughts as a sentence tweak here or there pops into my mind at random times. I have notes everywhere. I get so deep into my writing zone underground on the subway that I’ve almost missed my stop several times, something I’ve rarely even done with reading.

Speaking of reading…

I’m so far in the zone that I haven’t picked up a novel in over a week. I don’t even know why I wrote all the words leading up to this because that says it all right there.

Blog Roll – What I’m working on….

My talented and fabulous friend, Samantha Stroh Bailey, author of the fantastic novel, Finding Lucas, has challenged me to answer this blog roll on writing – Read about her fascinating writing process HERE.

And keep reading to see who I nominate to participate…

1.      WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

My current manuscript is about a woman who has an unusual way of dealing with conflict that one day falters and simultaneously exposes all of her deepest darkest thoughts, anger and angst to the very people she’d been hiding it from. 

In addition to revising this manuscript (Draft #1.5) I’ve also just begun pondering a plot for another novel which I expect I’ll write after this one. It gets complicated in my head sometimes.

2.      HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

It’s been said that every story has already been told, so, with that in mind, I think it all comes down to voice. While my novels are often serious, I tend to add levity and humor to situations and scenes, and I really enjoy the psychology of a first person novel, exploring why people do the things they do and say, and their motivations and experiences and inner dialogue.

One day I would like to be brave and try something new like a dual genre story hopping from past to present or even a few of the historical fiction ideas that have been bouncing around in my brain for the last two decades. One day, one day.

3.      WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

I love a strong female protagonist. I love putting them through hell. And then I love writing their happy endings.

4.      HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I wing it. All of it. AKA: I’m a pantser, flying by the seat of my pajama pants. I have a vague idea and then I let it percolate. I write bits and pieces down, writing more and more as the details of the story reveal themselves. I admit, it isn’t pretty much of the time. It’s clunky and awkward, but I don’t really know any other way and it seems to be working. Mostly. Oh, and staring into space occurs frequently – daydreaming is a large part of my process. There are random AH-HA moments as I figure out something important complete with fist pumps in the air and a lot of thinking about the best way to drag my heroine to hell and back and what’s going on in her mind.

This draft is going to be a little different than my previous pass it to beta readers, edit, then hand over to my editor. This time I’m passing it over to none other than Samantha Stroh Bailey before my beta readers. We are miraculously at the same point in our manuscripts and have set a strict deadline of August 1st to swap. Then, a week later, we’re having dinner and drinks and a heavy discussion about our respective manuscripts. Have I mentioned that I’m a perfectionist? And that Sam’s an über-editor? I’m a basket case! But nothing like a tight deadline to instigate momentum.

5.      AND THE OTHER PART OF THIS QUESTION, HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS NOT WORK?

What doesn’t work is editing a bunch of loosely strung together ideas although I have been improving on this front. I end up slashing and cutting and rewriting and moving chunks of the story around to make it cohesive. I also have to go back and add information or delete it as the story changes as I go along. One of the perks of plotting (or so I hear) is that this doesn’t happen as often, although I’ve heard a plotter or two say their stories end up changing half way through regardless of how much planning they do. Unfortunately I have to do a few rounds of edits before passing it over to beta readers for feedback.

For this novel I’ve been playing around with writing and editing on the subway for my work commute which is working very well for me – I suspect the lack of internet connection and other distractions is what works here. I do, however, tend to act out what my characters are doing to ensure I’m getting it right. I mimic their sneers, their grimaces, when they wrinkle their noses, how they move their arms, etc. I also mutter aloud when I’m working. Often. And I talk to myself and sigh a lot. This is not conducive to subway writing. I’m certain one day I’ll be hauled off a train and be committed.

And…*Rubs hands together.* Who do I want to nominate?

I’ve selected three women who not only do I admire and whose books I love, but I’m in absolute awe of how quickly they manage to rustle up a new novel! And a wee bit jealous! I’m hoping that by nominating them they’ll share some of their secrets!

K.C. Wilder, author of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Husband, Seattle Postmark and Wrecks.

Brea Brown, author of The Secret Keeper series, Let’s Be Frank, and Daydreamer.

Juliet Madison, author of Fast Forward, January WishFebruary or Forever, Starstruck in Seattle and I Dream of Johnny.

Writing Tips I’ve Learned from Watching Soap Operas

Flopping down on the couch to catch up on with my soap folks at the end of the day isn’t high on my priority list. I do, however, still enjoy watching batches of episodes while working on Novel Escapes, my blog, or whatever marketing and chit chat I’m doing online. I’ve watched General Hospital for close to thirty years and have watched various soaps since I was in diapers with Granny and Granny. Yes, they both wanted to be named Granny. Confusing to mini-people, my brothers and I labeled them Granny Down The Street and Granny At The Lake based on where they lived, and it stuck until I was thirty and Granny at the Lake left this world.

 

Granny at the Lake and Lydia - Val's Wedding2

Granny at the Lake

Lydia and Granny Down the Street

Granny Down the Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My maternal granny, Granny Down The Street, called them her “stories” and watched As The World Turns and Guiding Light which she sadly outlived both of. My paternal grandmother, Granny At The Lake, called them her ‘soaps’ and watched Another World and General Hospital. I’ve watched all of these at one point or another with them, sometimes cuddled on the couch, sometimes lying on the floor with my feet kicked up in the air while reading a book, and very often baking cookies in Granny At The Lake’s small kitchen with her tiny black and white TV crammed on the corner counter. To this day, I love cooking and baking when there’s a television nearby to watch, particularly soap operas. Fond memories die hard.

I’ve seen it all over the years from the devil (during a very brief stint with Days Of Our Lives in university) to mobsters to hundreds of characters risen from the dead. It’s all very implausible yet I keep watching. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the tie to my grannies or maybe it’s that watching all the drama can make you feel better about your own life when it’s not where you want it. Maybe I just want background noise and something I don’t have to pay close attention to.

A soap opera is the first thing I ever tried writing that I can remember. I was thirteen. Determined, I hammered away on the ancient typewriter we had – yes, I am that old. I find it very odd now how I thought I could do this. But now that I am older and have some experience with life, I find I can actually write about it.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about writing based on my soap opera watching:

  • Repetition is bad. Soap operas are the worst for this. I often refrain from whipping my converter at the television when it occurs. But I get it. They’re looking for a new audience and often have to explain things should someone new be watching. This isn’t needed in novels, however. No one is picking up a book at page 113 wondering what happened before that point. Just a nudge of memory here or there should suffice if drudging up something a reader might not remember immediately.
  • Keep things interesting and moving. No one likes to watch/read the same thing droned on and on about – part of the reason I’ve stuck with General Hospital is that their plot actually moves along at a quick clip. You can tune out for six months and come back having (almost) no clue what’s going on.
  • Interesting characters are move fun to watch/read.
  • Cliché and one dimensional characters are boring to watch/read.
  • Make things believable – and if they aren’t you better have a good reason for it happening.
  • Tension should fluctuate. Too much and it becomes unbearable, too little and it becomes boring.

Have you ever found writing tips in unusual places?

Choose Your Own Writing Adventure – How I come up with Ideas

Often when I tell people I am a writer, they pepper me with questions, and during such discussions I’m often asked ‘Can I be in your book?’ or warned ‘You won’t ever write about me… right?’. So I figured I would blog about my writing process now that I’ve written for a while and can actually say how I come up with ideas, characters and situations as well as the metamorphosis they undergo even as I write and rewrite. And overall, as you will see below, I can make no promises, but even if I happen to write a little something about you, the odds are you won’t even recognize it.

First, something has to strike my writing fancy. Sometimes these ideas come from eavesdropping (OK, most times). Sometimes they are things that have happened in my life. Or sometimes they come from events that have occurred to friends, family, and acquaintances. “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I think. “I wonder how that would work or what if that happened to someone else, someone with this or that type of personality.”

With each idea, I take that situation and think about it, mull it over add many ‘what if’s. In fact much of the process contains ‘What if…”. It’s like a massive huge choose your own adventure novel. And it goes a little something like this:

Idea 1  – Overheard in a food court:

A sister’s neighbour’s roofer accidentally got an address wrong and no one noticed until everyone came home from work and the job was completed.

  • Ouch. That’s a huge mistake. What’s the fallout? What happened and what happens floats through my mind: Does he lose his house because of the botched job he now has to pay for, loses his wife, his family, his children? Why did it happen – was he exhausted because of a newborn or because he was having an affair. Was it even his mistake? What transpired when they all found out? Was a normally passive housewife consumed with rage? Did the roofer go out, get drunk and drive home only to cause a tragedy for someone else. What if, what if, what if…

Idea 2 – Overheard at a temp job:

A young couple travels overseas to Asia on a dream vacation. They break up mid trip and are forced to fly home on the same flight – with her parents.

  • This was from a male’s perspective. First I would change to a woman’s point of view, because I write mainly about women. Then I ask all sorts of questions: How did they break up? How did she feel? Who broke up with who? Why didn’t either of them change their flight? I would make them married and force them to sit together on the plane. With her parents. Is there a dispute on the flight? Maybe with her parents. Maybe she’s pregnant and no one knows. What if she’s relieved and has been having an affair the entire time? What if she was waiting to break up with him until after the trip? Travelling is a huge stressor on relationships. This is an intriguing for plot and character development to me. Hmmm….

 Idea 3 – While doing some data entry:

The last name Roach appeared before me.

  • I continued typing, all the while thinking – What if a girl was deathly afraid of cockroaches and suddenly the man of her dreams appeared with the last name Roach? Does she turn him away because of it, stay and never change her name when they marry? What if they bump into each other over and over again over the years and fate is trying to push them together? What if they have kids who go the Bob Marley way? ‘Hey roach, pass the roach?’ All these thoughts floated through my brain within seconds. Interesting…

Now: Marrying the three ideas, here’s the loose idea I’ve come up with:

  1. A married couple and kids are on a flight to Caribbean. She’s terrified of roaches, but married a man with the last name Roach. She never changed her name. (in all likelihood, unless I have a good reason for it, this might get dropped somewhere along the line – Although there are huge roaches in the Caribbean…hmmm…)
  2. Just before the flight, he gets a call about a roofing job gone awry. He owns the company. He works. A lot. “Workaholic” her wife says. They argue on the way to airport. His almost cancelling the trip was the last straw in their relationship (although honestly, in my mind he’s already changing into a big shot executive who never takes breaks and had grumbled constantly about the vacation he doesn’t want to take).
  3. But now they’re flying south. To the Caribbean. For a family wedding! And he hates her sister, who is the one getting married – just made that last bit about the sister up – fun really! Although I have no idea why they hate each other yet.
  4. No one knows they’ve just split. It slowly unravels over a week.
  5. Heck, maybe they’re in Jamaica, just to keep things even more interesting….

The possibilities are endless and obviously there are other characters and many scenes to sort out, but this is how it all starts.

These are just a few examples that I overheard that piqued my interest that I probably wouldn’t ever use (although its all sounding more interesting as I added elements, truth be told). As you can see, it’s all one big Choose Your Own Adventure and by the time I’m finished with it, the situation is vastly different from any original I might have heard or experienced.

They all get muddled, thrown together and are melted down like chocolate into a gooey mess. Then as I work my way back up and mold them into the shapes I want and with each rewrite (this is because I’m a pantser and things change – too often), they alter, have additional layers and texture added like wafers and caramel and hopefully the end result is a delicious treat.

Characters are a bit different and are actually largely molded based on the ideas I’ve come up with and how I think different personality types would react to the situation I’ve created for them.

But I’ll save that for another post…